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California Lawyers Association

Probate Without a Will

Orange County, California Resident Dies Without a Will

If a person does not have a Will and dies a resident of Orange County, California the deceased’s estate will be distributed to heirs by "intestate" succession pursuant to California law to determine who will inherit the estate. Generally, the deceased’s assets will go to the deceased’s closest relatives. The determination of intestate heirs involves answering a series of questions about the person who died. The rules for intestate succession in California can be quite confusing. A summary of the rules can be found here.

However, intestate succession applies only to assets that the deceased owned alone, in his or her own name. Assets that will not be distributed by intestate succession include:

  • Intestate succession does not apply to property effectively transferred to a living trust
  • Intestate succession does not apply to life insurance proceeds if a designated beneficiary has been named.
  • Intestate succession does not apply to funds in an IRA, 401(k), or other retirement account if a designated beneficiary has been named.
  • Intestate succession does not apply to securities held in a transfer-on-death account. On a nonretirement account, designating a beneficiary or beneficiaries establishes a transfer on death (TOD) registration for the account. For an individual account, a TOD registration generally allows ownership of the account to be transferred to the designated beneficiary upon death.
  • Intestate succession does not apply to payable-on-death bank accounts. A bank account with a named beneficiary is called a payable on death (POD) account. An account or certificate of deposit at a bank with a designated a beneficiary will pass to the beneficiary upon the death of the owner of the account.
  • Intestate succession does not apply to vehicles held by transfer-on-death registration, or
  • Intestate succession does not apply to property owned with someone else in joint tenancy. A joint tenancy, often called a joint tenancy with a right of survivorship, grants each party a one-half interest in a piece of real estate. However, when one joint tenant dies, his property interest passes immediately to the remaining joint tenant. A joint tenant has no right to create a will leaving his half of the property to someone else. The surviving joint tenant is protected.
  • Intestate succession does not apply to community property with the right of survivorship. If spouses hold title as "community property with right of survivorship," then when one spouse dies, the other will automatically own the community property. No probate will be necessary to make the transfer.

As can be readily seen, the determination of intestate succession rights can be bewildering. To gain information on Orange County, California probate or if you need the assistance of a probate lawyer, you can call me for a free consultation. You can reach me by phone at (949) 243-0408, by email at wksweeney@gmail.com or through via my online contact form.

Client Reviews
Earlier this year, we were searching for an attorney to process a Heggstad Petition. We did a search on Google and read an article that was written by William Sweeney. The article was very clearly written and expressed almost the exact situation we found ourselves in, so I emailed William to interview him. He spent a good amount of time (for free) listening to the background of our situation...I highly recommend William for probate/Heggstad issues in California. Emma
I would highly recommend hiring Mr. Sweeney for your Probate or Heggstad petition needs! He was amazing and super easy to work with! He had my Heggstad drafted and filed within 1 week from when I provided all the info to him. 60 days later, I hear that the Judge granted everything asked for in the petition. John
Bill Sweeney and his incomparable paralegal Jennifer Fejzic represented and advised me through the probate of a parent's estate. Having practiced law myself for over 30 years, I expected expertise, precision, and wisdom -- all of which Bill and Jennifer richly delivered, promptly and at a reasonable, indeed more than fair, fee. I recommend Bill and Jennifer with gratitude and confidence. Greg